In 2014, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA) committed to scale its early college program to all high schools in the District. This initiative will seamlessly connect the entire 8,400 high school student body to community college and/or university education while they are still in high school.
This initiative will dramatically increase the number of students who complete either a community college certificate, Associate Degree, or 60 college hours while still in high school by ensuring that the following goals will be met within four years (class of 2018). More than 85% of PSJA seniors will have earned college hours by graduation day. Sixty percent of students (1,200) will have already graduated from college with either an Associate Degree (30% or 600) or a Certificate (30% or 600) during their senior year in high school, (or earned at least 60 college hours towards a degree).
Partnering with South Texas College (STC), PSJA has created four Early College High Schools (ECHS) and will add two additional ECHS for the fall of 2014. Students not in ECHS will have access to college course work through a 'Dual to Degree' initiative. All students will select degree plans leaning towards community college certificates or degrees.
PSJA will provide college textbooks, testing and support services, transportation, adjunct faculty, advisement, degree planning, tutoring, monitoring, cohorting of students scheduling of classes, college transition support, parent information sessions, facilities, and equipment.
STC will waive tuition and fees, provide college admission services, registration, student advisement, degree planning, tutoring, library access, on-line services, adjunct college faculty selection, training, professional development, technical assistance, access to classes at STC, campuses, and college faculty at high schools.
Educate Texas and Jobs for the Future will provide Technical Assistance, staff development, and documentation.
IDRA and Encore will provide parent education.
In September 2014 two additional campuses will implement ECHS for entering freshmen: PSJA High School and Sonia Sotomayor (a campus for teenage mothers). 100% of the students at Jefferson and Southwest are served through the ECHS model. For 2014-15, Sotomayor will serve 100% of entering freshmen and North will scale to serve 50% of entering freshmen through ECHS. As each cohort progresses through high school, they will continue in the ECHS until graduation. In addition, PSJA will begin a conversion of high schools for disconnected youth (back-on-track schools) into dual enrollment campuses. In 2014-15, 20% of the students in PSJA's dropout prevention and recovery high school for 18-26 year-olds (College, Career, and Technology Academy) and those enrolled in Elvis Ballew HS (for off-track youth ages 15-21) will be dually enrolled with a plan to complete a Community College Certificate or Associate Degree concurrently with their high school diploma.
In 2015-16, PSJA North and PSJA HS will scale the percent of entering freshmen served through ECHS to 75%. Memorial will scale to 50%. The percent of students on certificate or associate degree plans at the back-on-track high schools will increase to 35%.
In 2016-17, PSJA North and PSJA HS will serve 100% of entering freshmen through ECHS. Memorial will scale to 75%. The percent of students at the back-on-track schools on certificate or associate degree plans will increase to 50%.
In 2017-18, all six ECHS will serve 100% of entering freshmen with this program. At least 65% of the students at the district's two back-on-track high schools will be on a plan to complete a certificate or associate degree in conjunction with their high school diploma.
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA), located in Hidalgo County, Texas, is historically one of the most impoverished counties in the nation. Nearly 40% of adults in Hidalgo County over age 25 have not obtained a high school diploma, double the rate for Texas (19.3%). Only 19.9% over 25 years old have a college degree (Associate, Bachelor, or Graduate). The rate for Texas is 32.6%. The rate for these indicators in the cities of Pharr, San Juan, and Alamo is even less than the county average. (US Census, 2012)
PSJA serves 32,000 students (99% Latino, 89% economically disadvantaged). In 2007, the district launched an initiative to address educational attainment as The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems recently found that approximately 11% of Texas Latinos could be found to have successfully attained any level of college completion (Certificate, Associate, or Bachelor's Degree) within 11 years of entering 8th grade. (A New Measure of Educational Success in Texas) The high school dropout rate was more than double the state average and the high school graduation rate was 62%.
Through innovative and aggressive dropout recovery and prevention strategies, including the opening of a high school for dropouts ages 18-26 years old (College, Career, and Technology Academy or CCTA) that dually enrolled them in community college and high school, PSJA's dropout rate plummeted by more than 85%. The four year high school completion rate climbed to over 88%, outperforming state and national averages. Today, approximately 95% of PSJA high school students earn their high school diploma. Through CCTA alone, almost 1,300 18-26 year old dropouts and high school non-completers have completed high school since December 2007. Cited as a national model for this dramatic turnaround, PSJA is working for similar impact on post-secondary attainment. (Data Source: Texas Education Agency AEIS Report, District Data)
Funds are still needed to scale this work. In particular, funds for equipment for college courses in the STEM fields. Obtaining equipment through donations is an alternative. Examples include funds or equipment for the medical field, technology, manufacturing, auto technology, computer programming, computer maintenance, electronics, or engineering ,
Implementing partners are needed to help design and build college connected education and career programs in high wage/high demand fields. Internship and mentorship opportunities are also needed.
Scholarships for students to continue college work after high school are needed, particularly for undocumented students who have limited access to resources.
Media support for the best practices and tremendous success Pharr-San Juan-Alamo has had with Latino youth is necessary to achieving continued success.